Dawn Clemets' best work very literally takes over space, replacing architectural surfaces and tangible forms with her infinitesimal versions, which compel us to explore. Neither completely realist in their meticulousness, nor strictly conceptual in their project, the biggest sprawling ink drawings flow over connected sheets of paper, covering entire walls and galleries with tracking shot-like vistas of other views, other rooms. Given sufficient space to grow—there is, indeed, something very organic and vine-like to the way her largest drawings stretch over and up walls—Clements' work is arresting in its vision, and captivating in its detail.
The Brooklyn-based artist's incredible piece in the 2010 Whitney Biennial
portrays a succession of rooms as glimpsed in a panning camera movement from the 1946 Barbara Stanwyck film My Reputation
. Unfortunately that work, Mrs. Jessica Drummond's ('My Reputation,' 1946)
(2010), tucked behind a room-sized sculpture by Hannah Greely
, loses much of its power in the Biennial's busy installation. Clements gets all the room she needs, however, in her spectacular exhibition Recent Work
at The Boiler
in Williamsburg (through May 7).
The new drawings aren't simply taking advantage of the soaring industrial space, however; the three-piece exhibition's largest work, "Boiler" (2010, approx. 18' by 38', above), uncannily doubles the rusted boiler that it shares the gallery with, offering a new way of seeing the thing that gallery visitors can see plainly right next to them. It's an interesting substitution or superimposition, at once brashly postmodern and typically Gothic, like so many of Clements' grand, ornate compositions. As opposed to her Biennial piece, which was drawn with fine ball-point pen lines in varying densities to create areas of shade and light, the thick strokes of Sumi ink used for "Boiler" give each line a weight and fluidity that seem especially appropriate given the subject. The streaks of ink are tightly cross-hatched in the body of the boiler, giving it a tangible, rough-hewn texture that becomes gradually more sparse and delicate as lines fall away and the drawing becomes more like a net or latticework. Her "Boiler" conveys mass and weightlessness at once in a manner reminiscent of the most immensely delicate of Elliot Hundley
's sculptural assemblages.
Hung on two walls and over a corner of the gallery, the climbing, dissolving work seems literally to evaporate as we follow its apparent progression from right to left, beginning with the dark, hulking form of the boiler tank and ascending via a series of ladders, railings and valves. The crinkled texture of the massive paper—which evokes the similar folds in the work of Kiki Smith
—suggests a three-dimensional form sliced open and laid out. One wonders whether Clements didn't actually drape these monumental sheets of paper onto the actual boiler, trace its various lines and ridges, and then unfold it onto the wall. Whereas pieces in her Film and Television
series clearly adopted the camera's point of view into a different kind of two-dimensional image, the floating, indeterminate perspective moving over "Boiler" remains mysterious, practically ghostly.
Those preceding works converted a mode of seeing from one medium (film) into another (drawing), but this spectacular new work bewitches by denying us an identifiable viewing position. Like Cubism, Clements lets us see from multiple perspectives at once. Our vision is fractured and refracted, enhanced but never stable. Her trademark on-the-fly annotations—scribbled messages along the edges of her drawings—might have given some indication, but with the thick Sumi ink these are virtually illegible, and mostly clustered near the top of the 18-feet-tall image. Are we following the movements of the long-gone industrial workers who climbed onto the boiler daily, Clements' own visual course around the imposing piece of architectural equipment, or something else entirely? The impossibility of answering this question adds to the work's richness.
The two other pieces in the exhibition, a relatively tiny still life on several attached sheets of paper and "Ruin" (2009, 12' by 10', above), assume fixed positions and evoke the crisp deep focus cinematography of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane
in their exhaustive details. The latter, from her Domestic Interiors
series, organizes its journey up a staircase and through the second floor of what looks like an abandoned Victorian mansion, around a spectacular, badly damaged crystal chandelier. Clements imbues this towering, twisted, disheveled and off-kilter object with so much character one expects it to break into a jangling song-and-dance number like a household item from Disney's Beauty and the Beast
. This quality of causing viewers to read movement into her images makes Clements' drawings affecting in a very unusual and original way.
Rather than trying to convey dynamism within the forms she depicts, each image is frozen in a diorama-like stillness. By unfolding these suspended vistas carefully, like an amusement park ride through a series of rooms organized for our benefit, each image draws us in, bringing the ink marks to life as our vision travels through and across them--Aleksandr Sokurov's epic tracking shot, Russian Ark
, continually comes to mind. And this in turn bolsters the uncanny feeling one has looking at Clements' work, the impression of seeing an inanimate space come to life from someone or something else's point of view, or of being suddenly endowed with a completely disembodied vision. This new exhibition at The Boiler allows these qualities in her work to develop in unexpected, soaring directions, and makes the viewer eager to follow her through every ink mark and liner note. With an impressive showing in the Biennial and this wonderful two-dimensinal architectural installation, Dawn Clements' career seems poised to boil over into full-fledged art stardom.
(photos courtesy the artist, Pierogi Gallery)